Your wife worries in church: Are your kids part cloud too—is their cloud activated underneath their little well-tempered chests in their little Haines shirts? Will she lose a fourth grade daughter through the diamond shaped glass promenade in the food court one day, when walking to Icing via the entrance in JC Penney’s?
Will her children elope off with their father—for the spring parties cheering up other women, teaching them how to believe in love—the three of them along with their father provoking kitchen chairs in women’s kitchens across space and time to wait for them, to want them to return?
She tries to sort out her feelings asking the OnStar in her car the directions to the places in Peter Pan. As if learning an opposing brand of disappearing will make her be able to grapple with her husband in Teflon-fingered gloves as he takes off for flight.
Her husband looks like a turkey—with glasses and a gobbler he tucks in when he falls asleep in a frayed white sweatshirt, during football TV, rolling over on the couch to face the green grass of the backyard as if in sleep he is downloading the sighs of nature.
She wonders what she can do to neuter such a husband.
She puts Grape Nuts in his cereal bowl and hopes the food will weigh him down.
Next April at a book club, her worries escalate as the women read erotica, seated Indian-style in a greenhouse, swarmed by the morning sun. She imagines her husband—the human, the cloud, moving onto women in his charity—leaving sachets of white chocolate beans, clover grasses, a perfume of anise, and a balled-up panty that is personalized to say his name of Steve.
The other women in the book club have gone on to talking about the orgy that took place around an antiquated copier on page 144—men Xeroxing acts of intercourse with women and somehow a string of ants got into the images.
But all Lori can do is lay down.
Put her glass of lemonade above her heart.
And let her fears weed.
To the youngest woman in the group—Lori looks like an ironing board because of her position on the greenhouse floor and her meticulously starched blouse and belted slacks. To the older women in the crowd, everyone is thinking Lori has reached a pinnacle of rose arousal—swooning over scenarios that having a husband prevents her from trying.
For their birthdays some eight-year-old girls want perms. Others would be happy to be able to build a graham cracker castle with a group of their friends. Claudia only wanted to ride bareback on a mermaid. Over the phone, after offering to bring the chicken bombers from John and Mary’s to the party, or to provide the buy-one-get-one yogurt flutes, I listen to her mother quail that the act of “riding” always makes her think of people smelling pungent. Be it horse, elephant, fish, or bird she suspected the seams of her daughter’s jeans would start to smell like wheat once she boarded, and the challah roll of child’s fat around her waist would heat up as if the jostling motion were an oven itself. There was also the worry the presence of an underwater impersonator at a child’s party would teach all attending girls it was acceptable to wear a wet bra around the house if trying to achieve the mermaid look.
Worst of all was the admission that her mother often risked wishing fish out of existence. In places ripe for treason, like a Niagara Falls lobster restaurant or the nave of her Catholic Church on a Lenten Friday, Claudia’s mother imagined God turning all sea creatures into something more practical. Swordfish into claves for music class, crappie into emergency maxi pads for frightened and bleeding hall monitors, octopus into food-shelf muffins, McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches into a scrub brush. Never ever facing what started this hatred of finned flesh: an incident of once catching her treasured grandfather spy on a lady fishmonger zipping up her fly during their Saturday jaunt together to a public market.
It was back behind her stall the monger jerked her pants open with a spidery hand like working the flu of a fireplace. She squealed a hot piss on the black top, already blue with spilt oil, the remnants from a motorcycle mess earlier in the day, before the street teamed with stalls and steel vegetable baskets. There was no underwear under the monger’s Levi’s and her skin looked moist as lettuce as it peaked out, thigh to bent knee. Grandfather said he had a sixth sense sometimes and followed the view to behind her booth, as if he’d honed in on what sordid things people were going to do and bowled his own halo down the lane to take part.
The air smelled like the ocean, like pork, beets, okra, and the smell of faux orca’s meat in the tide above their heads. Noticing the watching eyes, the monger meatball-cupped her breast under a black sweatshirt as if moving a hill back over her heart…then she parted her lips to suck in breath and wiped her hands off along the fugue of flowers lolling out of the booth next to hers. In disguised applause, Grandfather sucked on his cracked wedding ring and it whistled.
In the din of crowds—foreign vendors were eating free buckets of Chinese; talking corn and cable television prices in Hindi, Peruvian, English and the Gaelic that would frost out of being in coming decades—Claudia’s mother felt soiled! Like worms and sperms fled in sprouts out of her skin—she had already been perspiring from a childish coat on a warm October day. The coat became more constricting as she morally aged throughout the afternoon.
Did everyone near know someone with her blood and last name had gotten pleasure out of the fishmonger?
Like a bad restaurant fume that follows you home, she felt fish in the fuzz of her pillows for weeks after. She repeatedly was assessed by her own mother for her new habit of stealing lilac wedding sachets out of the linen closet to disguise the imagined odor. That day, her grandfather bought her a green, caterpillar-shaped windsock as they were exiting the gate of the market. It was a craft from the other talents of her school choir teacher. She swiftly hid it in the home trashcan above the flippant slices of pizza thrown out after her parents’ “bygone era” theme party the night before. How could Mom dress up like Audrey Hepburn and express her freedom without knowing granddad was sexual? How could Dad act like a college cad, bumping hips to “Blue Moon” while gluing model airplanes together with guests in the basement?
In her modern life, because of this incident, she never brought fish into the house. She stewed at supper when a waiter suggested her daughter might like to sample the orange roughy. She gallantly planned to blame future puberty pimples on her daughter’s occasional ingestion of Filet-O-Fish while on outings with teenage sport teams.
Yet none of this determination mattered. She was locked up in the bewilderment of a psychological bugaboo. It was like sexuality and sea scenery were about to take a shit on her kitchen counter and all monies collected for perms and crackers would be left unturned until a mermaid put them in her clichéd conch change purse.